Monuments Men Foundation donates Nazi photo catalogue of stolen art to US archives

Foundation promoting wartime art recovery unit's work hands relic to national archive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 11:36pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 May, 2014, 3:39am

A photo album depicting troves of precious art looted by the Nazis during the second world war has been donated to the National Archives, America's repository of historical artefacts.

The album is one of 39 "Hitler albums" - essentially a catalogue of art confiscated by troops operating under orders from Adolph Hitler.

The album was given to the National Archives on Thursday at a ceremony that fell on the anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe.

The album shows page after page of black and white photographs, images, in this case, of artwork stolen from France. The leather-bound book was recovered from one of Hitler's homes.

The album was donated to the National Archives by the Monuments Men Foundation, whose mission is to disseminate the story about the lost works of art and the Allied soldiers who helped recover them.

The story of the military's art recovery units was popularised in the movie The Monuments Men, written by and starring George Clooney. The film opened across US movie screens in February.

The photo albums served as important evidence of Nazi crimes and were used at war trials to show the extent of pillaging and looting carried out by the Nazis during the war. The album handed over on Thursday was found at Hitler's villa in Berchtesgaden, Germany, in the closing days of the war.

It had been taken as a souvenir by a former soldier from Texas, now deceased, Robert Edsel, chairman of the foundation, said at the donation ceremony.

His relatives gave it to the foundation in 2006, Edsel said, and the foundation kept it until now to help urge veterans and their families to turn over other historically important artefacts they might have with them. The leather-bound album had a photograph of a painting on each page and a code reflecting which family the painting had been stolen from, Edsel said.

For instance, "R" stood for the wealthy Rothschild family.

The first photo in the album showed the painting Portrait of a Woman by Nicholas de Largilliere, an 18th century French artist. Its inventory code was R437, meaning it was the 437th object stolen from the Rothschilds.

Harry Ettlinger, 88, one of six surviving Monuments Men, attended the ceremony. A bald man with grey eyes and a gift for telling a story, Ettlinger was present to bear witness to the work he and his colleagues did as well as the crimes of the Nazis.

"We, in contrast to the Nazis, had a policy, had a philosophy, to make sure that the cultures of people would remain so long as they respect other cultures," he said. "What we did during and after World War Two is unique in the history of civilisation."

The Washington Post, Agence France-Presse